Saturday, 4 July 2015

A statistical look at the Romanian scrum

The Romanian scrum has been best amongst Tier 2 nations in recent times. A hugely dominant force which along with the maul has won games almost single handedly on occasions, although they have also become hugely dependant on it. Here is a statistical look at how it has fared in recent times.

It doesn't require a genius to work out what Romania's major weapon is. Anyone who has seen them play these past few years will know what's coming, and that is an attempt to grind down opponents via set piece scrum and mauls.

Very few sides have used a scrum as a means of attack quite to the extent the Romanians have, and over the past year the extent of how much it has been relied upon has actually increased. To show just how much of a weapon it has been used by the Oaks, here are a few numbers just to sum up.

In last month's Nations Cup against Spain, Namibia and Argentina Jaguars, Romania's scrum dominated heavily throughout. In all winning 20 penalties, 8 turnovers and yielding in total 34 points directly from the scrum (it would have been over 40 but for the 8 points in missed kicks).

(Video: The annihilation of the Argentina Jaguars scrum)

In total direct points from the scrum accounted for 33% of the Oaks points in the tournament. Obviously that's not counting where points may have stemmed from the scrum. Such as a try via a maul from field position from a scrum penalty. Or front foot ball from a strong scrum leading to points.

Last November, Romania played against USA, Japan and Canada and again were on top for the most part. In the three games they won a total of 15 penalties, and gained 29 points directly from the scrum. In total direct points from the scrum accounted for 60% of the Oaks points.

While against weaker opponents Romania may ease off a bit in trying to force penalties every single scrum, and equally use their set piece as an attacking platform for carriers to use.

But what's noticeable is against slightly tougher opponents, such as a Canada or Argentina Jaguars, they've really focused on hunting penalties and been brutal off their own put in.

Indeed against Canada last November, they won that game almost exclusively from the huge advantage at the scrum. 12 of 18 points came directly from it plus further 3 stemmed from a strong carry by the 8 of the back of a big scrum.

(GIF: The final scrum penalty that secured another win over Canada in November)

In that game Romania were awarded a penalty from 5 of the 7 scrums they put in (4 of which resulted in 3 points). Against Argentina Jaguars last month Romania won a penalty at 8 of their 11 put ins, and scored a try of another one, using their strong base only twice to launch ball carriers with front foot ball.

Overall, in matches against World Cup qualified nations under the new engagements, off their own put in Romania have been awarded a penalty at a rate of over 50%.

(GIF: A clean pushover try vs Namibia last month)

Romania's scrum has been the most dominant of any Tier 2 nation. With the exception of Samoa (who the Oaks curiously have not faced since 1989), at some point every nation from both the PNC and ENC has come off second best, and normally by quite a considerable distance, to the Romanian scrum since the new engagement laws came in.

But whilst the dominance is still impressive, most of those nations aren't great scrummaging units it must be said. In particular the North American sides will be likely the two worst at the World Cup.

When Romania have faced the Tier 2 nation in Georgia that is the best equipped to stand up to them, the scrum simply hasn't played a major role in either match under the new engagements.

The Oaks were actually ahead in terms of penalty count in both matches. But it's nowhere near at a rate that's taking control of a match and creating a significant total of points. They've only got 3 points from the scrum in the two matches.
Romanian tries in 2014.
Note: Scrum and Maul ball = either
tries directly resulting from them
or off first phase.

Without the scrum contributing many points against Georgia, it's left the rest of Romania's game exposed and they've got a bit stuck in their past couple of matches. Not coming particularly close to winning, and not really threatening much at all, and in fact they now are on a 313 minute try drought against the Lelos.

They may have a beastly attacking set piece through scrum and maul, but also enormously reliant on it. And with the exception of their sublimely outstanding full back Catalin Fercu, they could be seen to be simply complete one trick ponies.

In 2014, 30% of Romania's tries were penalty tries from either scrum or maul, and it was their top scorer. Whilst 70% of their tries were either directly from scrums or mauls, or off first phase ball from an attack launched of a scrum or a maul.

Romania have managed to be competitive and give hard matches even in losing efforts against superior sides like Japan, and pulled off upset wins over Tonga and Canada (twice) through their set piece. But the problem isn't just getting how they've got stuck and barely threatened a side that largely holds up at scrum like Georgia. But also, how it leaves them at the hands of the referee as well which will vary.

Notably in 2013, Romania's scrum gave Fiji an absolute mauling. But on that occasion the referee Dudley Phillips completely wrecked the Oaks chances as he consistently refused reward that utter dominance with some unusual decisions. In fact, strangely, Dudley Phillips seemed to take such a dislike to what was a hugely dominant Romanian scrum that he alone gave over 67% of the penalties Romania have conceded in all of the past two November windows.

(GIF: Romania on the hunt for a second penalty/pushover try only for Dudley Phillips to reset)

Heading into the World Cup, while Romania's front row will be confident in the big game against Canada. The question is whether a scrum alone will be able to pull off a third upset in a row over the Canadians who have had several outside backs star in European domestic competitions, and whether it can get on top of the Italians (not the force they once were) in the other game they will be targeting.

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